Grad­u­ate au­thor lived on his own terms

Writer worked odd jobs, trav­elled

Calgary Herald - - NEWS -

The 1967 film The Grad­u­ate was a gen­er­a­tional touch­stone, launch­ing the ca­reer of Dustin Hoff­man, earn­ing direc­tor Mike Ni­chols an Os­car and turn­ing a char­ac­ter’s one-word ca­reer ad­vice — “plas­tics” — into a punch­line.

Based on a novel by Charles Webb, it made more than US$100 mil­lion from its story of a dis­af­fected col­lege grad­u­ate (Hoff­man) who is se­duced by a mar­ried woman (Anne Ban­croft) and falls in love with her daugh­ter (Katharine Ross).

Webb dis­tanced him­self from it. He and his wife, Eve Rudd, gave away most of their posses­sions and moved be­tween camp­grounds, trailer parks, nud­ist colonies and a Mo­tel 6 be­fore set­tling in Eng­land.

He was 81 when he died there June 16, more than a decade af­ter publishing Home School, a se­quel to The Grad­u­ate that helped him pay some debts and avoid evic­tion.

Webb was 24 when The Grad­u­ate was pub­lished in 1963. His char­ac­ter’s af­fair with an older woman was not au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal.

“My fa­ther had cou­ples over to the house to play bridge,” he said in 2005. “At the sight of (one of the women) my fan­tasy life be­came su­per­charged.”

Screen­writer Buck Henry wrote in the “plas­tics” line while re­tain­ing much of the novel’s di­a­logue. (“Mrs. Robinson, you are try­ing to se­duce me. … Aren’t you?”)

Webb sold the movie rights for US$20,000 and never shared in film or stage pro­ceeds. He do­nated the copy­right and sold or do­nated other posses­sions, in­clud­ing art by Robert Rauschen­berg and Andy Warhol, a home in the Berk­shires and one out­side New York City.

For a time, he and his fam­ily lived in a ’68 Volk­swa­gen bus, criss-cross­ing the coun­try. They home­schooled their chil­dren and, al­though they di­vorced — in protest of the in­sti­tu­tion of mar­riage — re­mained to­gether, sup­port­ing them­selves by clean­ing houses, pick­ing fruit, clerk­ing at Kmart and pre­sid­ing over a nud­ist camp.

Webb con­tin­ued writ­ing even while go­ing 19 years with­out publishing.

Charles Richard Webb was born June 9, 1939.

Two other Webb nov­els were made into movies: The Mar­riage of a Young Stock­bro­ker (1970) and New Cardiff (2001) be­came Hope Springs.

Charles Webb

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